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Op-Ed

Opinion: Please, Don't Call Them 'Homeless'

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You can’t solve a problem without recognizing what it really is. For example: If you are stuck 12 hours in the desert, totally dehydrated, your problem isn’t hunger as much as it is thirst. Unless you understand the difference, you might think a pepperoni pizza will solve your problem. It won’t. You need water, not Italian food.

Likewise with the so-called “homeless.” Their problem can’t be solved until we first recognize what it really is. Most so-called “homeless people” are not primarily afflicted by the inability to find a home. Rather, most of them are suffering from mental illness or have simply made the voluntary decision to live on the street, without a regular job.

It is not true that they cannot afford a home, and the numbers prove it.

For example, in Chalmette, Louisiana, about 20 minutes from New Orleans, where I live, plenty of people live in two bedroom apartments that rent for about $900 a month. Each of those bedrooms can hold at least one bunk bed, which means those apartments can easily house four adults. That makes the monthly rent $225 per adult.

Why don’t people share such apartments and live in affordable communities, versus sleeping on the street in high rent cities? The answer is: Many already do. They live in middle-class areas and they have jobs at Walmart or McDonalds. They earn about $10 an hour or more, and they get by.

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Earning $10 an hour, full time, you can make about $1,700 a month and can easily afford to share an apartment. But here’s the catch: To do this you have to be sane and you need some degree of self control. People with these qualities are able to hold a job, pay rent and live with others. They are mentally stable and can function in society.

People who cannot do this are not “homeless” so much as they are mentally unstable and socially nonfunctional. You shouldn’t call them “homeless” for the same reason that someone dying of thirst shouldn’t be called “hungry.” It is an inaccurate term that confuses the issue and makes it harder to solve the problem.

What about the rest of the so-called “homeless” — sane people who have made a voluntary decision to live on the street? I’m talking about people who seem to be rational and appear normal, but for some reason chose to beg on street corners, refuse work and live in tents on the sidewalk.

What would you call them? I’m not absolutely sure, but I do know one thing: They are “homeless” the same way I am “tattoo-less.”

I don’t have any tattoos because I chose not to, not because I can’t afford any. Tattoo parlors are all over New Orleans, and I’m sure some tattoos can be gotten for as little as $30 — but, call me crazy, I just don’t want any. That is my voluntary decision. It doesn’t hurt anyone and it is not against the law.

Choosing to live on the street and refuse work, on the other hand, used to be against the law. It used to be called vagrancy and it was illegal before the Supreme Court, displaying its great wisdom on how to maintain order and civility in Urban America, ruled that anti-vagrancy laws were “unconstitutional” because they are “vague.”

In the 1972 case of Papachristou vs. Jacksonville, the Supreme Court, relying in part on a report by the ACLU, ruled that an anti-vagrancy ordinance was “void for vagueness” because it failed to “give a person of ordinary intelligence fair notice” of what was forbidden. Really?

Hence, the so-called “homeless problem” is really a combination of the evils caused by judicial activism and mental illness, two issues that are probably different, I’m not sure.

Or, the “homeless problem” may be seen another way. It may be seen as a case where the left dictates what words really mean: Homeless means poor, which means worthy of government spending, which means higher taxes, which means jobs for government-employed leftists.

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God forbid if you disagree. Oppose spending ever more tax dollars on “the homeless”? That will turn off the government spigot. That could force some government employees to find honest work as baristas or carpenters, and they sure don’t want that.

Performing carpentry or making cappuccino is real work. It isn’t as much fun as arrogant moral preaching from an air-conditioned “Office of Homeless Services.” So please, for the sake of our tireless government employees, keep on calling vagrants and mentally unstable people “homeless.” It won’t solve the problem, but it is a great jobs creation program for government bureaucrats.

The views expressed in this opinion article are those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by the owners of this website. If you are interested in contributing an Op-Ed to The Western Journal, you can learn about our submission guidelines and process here.

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Mike Weinberger is a retired attorney and businessman who served as president of the Lawyers Chapter of the Federalist Society in New York City in the 1980s. He now lives in Louisiana, where he founded the Home Defense Foundation (hdfnola.org) and co-founded the Committee for a Common Sense Judiciary (commonsensejudiciary.org).




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